Mediterranean food is amazing. I think its due to the climate – which, incidentally, is the same as the SF Bay Area climate – which allows for a full development of produce and ingredients. In one of my many “what can I scrape together from what happens to be in my fridge” moments, I decided to embrace the region for a full meal. Zucchini pancakes, tomato salad, Portugese wine, and baklava. Really only the zucchini pancakes were in my fridge (un-assembled of course). Baklava took some special shopping. I’m weird and dislike the vast majority of nuts. But I love pine nuts, so I decided to make pine nut baklava for dessert. Shopping tip: Trader Joe’s has good prices for nuts, particularly pine nuts, which run on the expensive side. The result was amazing Mediterranean food
1 large zucchini
2-3 oz feta
1/3 cup onion/green onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 tsp baking powder
Grate the zucchini, either in a food processor or, if you are low-tech like me, a standing cheese grater. Stick in a bowl, and mix with the all the other ingredients except the egg. Beat the egg separately and add it to the mixture last. Heat olive oil in a pan. Once the oil is hot, add large spoonfuls of the mixture to the pan, and fry on both sides. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Warning – these pancakes are very soft and kinda delicate – it will go much easier if you try to make them small. I didn’t and it caused me some slight issues.
Pine Nut Baklava: I actually got this recipe from my friend’s mom, who is Greek and makes baklava with some regularity. I adjusted the proportions down to make it more appropriate for 1-2 people.
1 cup roughly chopped pine nuts
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pre-thaw the phyllo dough. Combine the chopped nuts with sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. In a separate bowl, melt the butter. To assemble, brush every other sheet with butter and place it in a pan. I used an 8X8 pan, which meant I had to cut the phyllo down to size. In theory, you need a pastry brush, but I was too lazy to buy one – you can spread butter with the back of a spoon fairly well. Once you have 5-6 sheets in the pan, scatter 1/3 of the nut mixture over the dough. Add 3 or so more sheets, and scatter another third, and then do that again. Make sure the top layer of phyllo is a little thicker – more like 6 layers. Cut into squares and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so, till its all golden brown. While it is baking, make the syrup.
Take: 1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash or two of cinnamon
Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Simmer for 7ish minutes, or until it thickens, a little. It won’t thicken a lot, so no worries on that front. Let it cool. Once the baklava is out of the oven, pour the syrup over it, and let it all sit for several hours before eating it.
Both recipes were awesome – so much so that I ate them both up way too quickly. The zucchini pancakes didn’t need any garnish or topping, but I’m sure a little greek yogurt on it would work really well. The only problem with the pancakes is that they were very very soft – nearly too soft to flip successfully. The baklava was perfect – not overpoweringly sweet and dangerously addictive. The only minor thing is that it doesn’t stay as flaky after a few days, so you might want to eat it quickly or share. Naturally, I paired this with a white wine, because its summer. But I think it meshes a bit better. If you desperately want a red, I’d suggest a Beaujolais, which won’t overpower the zucchini pancakes.
Last year for Eid I made a Persian eggplant dish, Mirza Ghasemi. Since then, I’ve made it several times and its become one of my favorite dishes, although a complicated one I don’t make too often. Well, now that it is summer, and eggplant is back in season, I decided to revisit this lovely dish. Then, I had a brilliant idea (partially because I forgot to buy pita bread) – I could stick it in filo and make a delicious savory pastry! So that is precisely what I did.
½ large eggplant or 1 smallish eggplant
1-2 medium tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 onion, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger or turmeric (to taste)
Fresh parsley (chopped, to taste)
Fresh mint (chopped, to taste)
Lightly coat the eggplant in olive oil. Roast at 400 until the eggplant is soft. To test, press the skin of the eggplant. If it collapses a bit, it’s done. Once the eggplant is cool enough to touch, scoop out the insides. Mash/chop/puree the cooked eggplant. This breaks up the fibrous clumps. Place in a bowl.
Heat some olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add the garlic and onions. After a few minutes, add the salt, pepper, ginger, and eggplant. After a few more minutes, add the tomatoes. Cook (mashing up any lumps) until the tomatoes have largely broken down, and mixed with the eggplant. Add the fresh mint and parsley. Set aside to cool. One cool, add one egg and a couple ounces of feta cheese.
Assembly: Take the thawed filo dough. Fold a sheet into quarters. Brush with melted butter. If you don’t have a pastry brush (like me – somehow I manage to not have one, not sure why) then you can spoon on some butter and spread it with the back of a spoon – it totally works. Add a plop – about a 1/4 cup, of the mirza ghasemi mixture on one end of the filo. The fold the filo up like a flag in order to create a lovely triangle. For those of you who weren’t girl (or boy) scouts like yours truly, here is a handy (US-centric) website – start at step 4. Stick the triangles on a baking tray and bake at 400 until golden brown – about 20-30 minutes.
Not the most exciting looking, but its what’s on the inside that counts
The result was really really good. Sadly, it wasn’t great. The flavors were a bit muted for my taste. I think it was double cooking the herbs or maybe not using enough spices, or both. Next time, I will add the parsley and mint in with the eggs and feta, so they don’t lose any of their flavor, or that the very least, lose less of it. The filo was delicious – though again, the downside is that when you reheat filo in a microwave, it doesn’t remain crispy. Again though, something coming out a 9 instead of a 10 is nothing to sneeze at. Given the flavors and the season, serve this with a light, white wine – red would be too heavy. Finally, this week’s song – “Along Comes Mary” by the Association. It’s a fun song with nearly indecipherable lyrics – it took me forever and reading them repeatedly before I got even half of them.